This a duplicated article from the Harvard
Business Journal from April 2012. It is written by Alex “Sandy” Pentland and it
is still relevant today.
Overcoming the Limits of Observation
When we sense esprit de corps, that perception
doesn’t come out of the blue; it’s the result of our innate ability to process
the hundreds of complex communication cues that we constantly send and receive.
With the data we’ve collected, we’ve mapped
the communication behaviors of large numbers of people as they go about their
lives, at an unprecedented level of detail. The badges produce “sociometrics,”
or measures of how people interact—such as what tone of voice they use; whether
they face one another; how much they gesture; how much they talk, listen, and
interrupt; and even their levels of extroversion and empathy. By comparing data
gathered from all the individuals on a team with performance data, we can
identify the communication patterns that make for successful teamwork.
Those patterns vary little, regardless of the type
of team and its goal—be it a call center team striving for efficiency, an
innovation team at a pharmaceutical company looking for new product ideas, or a
senior management team hoping to improve its leadership. Productive teams have
certain data signatures, and they’re so consistent that we can predict a team’s
success simply by looking at the data—without ever meeting its members.
The data also reveal, at a higher level, that
successful teams share several defining characteristics:
2. Members face one another, and their conversations and gestures are energetic.
3. Members connect directly with one another—not just with the team leader.
4. Members carry on back-channel or side conversations within the team.
5. Members periodically break, go exploring outside the team, and bring
In our research we identified three aspects of
communication that affect team performance. The first is energy,which we measure by the number and the nature of exchanges among team members.
A single exchange is defined as a comment and some acknowledgment—for example,
a “yes” or a nod of the head. Normal conversations are often made up of many of
these exchanges, and in a team setting more than one exchange may be going on
at a time.
Still, the number of face-to-face exchanges
alone provides a good rough measure of energy.) The number of exchanges engaged
in, weighted for their value by type of communication, gives each team member
an energy score, which is averaged with other members’ results to create a team
Energy levels within a team are not static.
For instance, in my research group at MIT, we sometimes have meetings at which
I update people on upcoming events, rule changes, and other administrative
details. These meetings are invariably low energy. But when someone announces a
new discovery in the same group, excitement and energy skyrocket as all the
members start talking to one another at once.
The second important dimension of communication isengagement, which reflects the distribution of energy
among team members. In a simple three-person team, engagement is a function of
the average amount of energy between A and B, A and C, and B and C. If all
members of a team have relatively equal and reasonably high energy with all
other members, engagement is extremely strong. Teams that have clusters of
members who engage in high-energy communication while other members do not
participate don’t perform as well. When we observed teams making investment
decisions, for instance, the partially engaged teams made worse (less
profitable) decisions than the fully engaged teams. This effect was
particularly common in far-flung teams that talked mostly by telephone.
To measure exploration, we have to deploy badges
more widely in an organization. We’ve done so in many settings, including the
MIT Media Lab and a multinational company’s marketing department, which
comprised several teams dedicated to different functions.
This article duplicated from： https://hbr.org/2012/04/the-new-